How to Spot Counterfeit Pokemon Cards - Be a Pikachu Card Detective

By Jess Searcy July 2, 2019

All I knew about Pokemon The Card Game about a week ago is that my kids are obsessed with collecting and trading the cards, and that vast amounts of money (both theirs and mine) have gone into their collections. But that all changed after their latest bout of begging for yet MORE cards. I decided it was time we learned how to play the actual game. Little did I know, that this would then lead us down a rabbit hole of discovery that their collections have been infiltrated with counterfeit cards. I figured I'm probably not the only parent who had no idea there are fake Pokemon cards floating around, so hopefully you will find this article helpful!

First of all, let me say that the game itself, if you and your kids have not yet learned, is super fun and a great way to strengthen reading and math skills! Plus, there's all kinds of strategy involved, and no two games are the same. And if you really get into it, there may be a Pokemon TCG league nearby, where you and your kids can meet and play with new friends. To find the league nearest you, go to the official Pokemon website and type in your address HERE. My kids are really excited to try this soon. To be totally honest, so am I! But I'm a nerd like that so...

So how did we discover that we had fake Pokemon in our midst? Well, each Pokemon creature card has a HP number (Hit Points or Health Points) that indicates how much damage that Pokemon can take before it gets knocked out. My son pulled a card on me that had HP 7000. And since most of my Pokemon could only do 100 or less damage per turn, I figured I was just doomed! During a break from the game, I started searching for how to beat this particular card. There had to be something I was missing. To my astonishment, I instead discovered that this particular card did not exist! It was a fake!

Down the rabbit hole we went. We googled, we watched youtube videos, we read articles. We examined their collections with magnifying glasses. We compared cards to each other and to online images. Now, I think, all three of us are pretty good at recognizing a fake. The kids will teach their friends, and I will teach you.

1. Does it have the black layer? The most reliable method of distinguishing a genuine card from a fake card is that the real cards have a black layer sandwiched in between two white layers, when you look at the edge of the cards. This is because real cards are constructed with better materials to make them stiffer and less prone to wearing out. Sometimes you can see the black layer with your naked eye, but this is really difficult. When you look at the edge with a magnifiying glass, it is pretty obvious (see picture below). I placed this method first since it is the most reliable, but you probably don't want to look at every single card in your collection with a magnifying glass! So use this method for those really tricky ones.

2. Are there any obvious signs? To the trained eye, some fake Pokemon cards are extremely obvious. Here are a few things to watch out for that are super easy to spot.

  • Extremely high HP number. The highest HP an authentic Pokemon card can have (at the time of publishing) is 300. So anything higher is fake. My kiddo was super bummed he couldn't clobber me with his HP 7000 Drilbur again.
  • Pokeball printed upside down. Look at the face of your card right side up, then flip it over to the left or right. The pokeball (red and white ball) on the back of the card should have the red side up. The one below has the white half on top.
  • The light blue area to the side of the red half of the pokeball is really washed out. In authentic cards, this area should have some darker blue spots.
  • Low contrast border on back of card. The dark blue border on a real card should be crisp and clear against the rest of the card.
  • Borders of card are thicker on one side or are not parallel to the artwork. You can see the card below has a much thicker yellow edge on one side. Sometimes the artwork is printed off kilter so the borders are thicker at the top or bottom or on one side.

3. Is the card supposed to have texture? It is still not clear to me which Pokemon cards are supposed to be textured. But this was a difference I noticed between some real full art GX cards and their fake counterparts. The genuine Tapu Lele GX card was textured, while the fake one only had the shine. Notice the fake one is printed with a tilt, making the edge inconsistent around the card.

4. Is anything on the card misprinted or missing? Fake cards make have misspellings, misprinted or blurry text, the wrong card number, or missing symbols. The Mewtwo EX card below was really tricky for me to identify. But, the rarity symbol is missing (usually a circle, star or diamond printed next to the card number) AND the card number is wrong. If you have a tough card, try looking it up in the official Pokemon Tading Card Database and comparing it to the genuine card. I was suspicious of the Charizard EX card below because unlike most of our cards, it has the "HP" printed after the number. But, when I looked it up in the database, that is how it is supposed to be.

5. Are parts of the card not shiny when they are supposed to be shiny? The "EX" in the real card below was iridescent, but in the fake card the "EX" was not.

I hope these tips help you and your kids spot Pokemon fakes. Learning how to spot them turned into a fun, mystery detective game for us. Hopefully, your kids will be excited (instead of disappointed) to find a few in their collections. Turn it into a sleuthing game of Detective Pikachu and it will be fun. Then, the next time you buy cards at a flea market, you will know you are getting your money's worth!

One last tip! If you are buying cards online, be wary of third-party sellers offering lots of rare cards for cheap. Stick to reliable sources. Even cards packaged as new, may be fake. If you follow these guidelines, however, you should be able to buy second-hand cards from local card shops and neighborhood marketplaces with confidence.


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